Golf was not the kind of sport young girls learned in Santiago, Spain. Fatima Fernandez Cano did not grow up watching Golf Channel or seeing highlights of Spanish golfers for inspiration. Simply being introduced to the game by her parents and playing at the Aeroclub de Santiago in Galicia was all she needed.
“Golf itself, inspired me. If things did not work out in my life or if I was ever sad and I needed to get away, golf was there. It has always been a place that makes me feel good. That is why I stuck with the game. When I am on the golf course or practicing, I am the most myself, and I love that so much,” said Cano.
Now, however, having finished No.2 in the Race for the Card and joining fellow Tour graduates like Inbee Park, Nelly Korda and Ally Ewing on the LPGA Tour, Fernandez Cano has an inspiration, a fellow Spaniard who is almost always in the forefront of her mind.
On September 17, 2018, 22-year-old Celia from Madrid was murdered at Coldwater Golf Links in Ames, Iowa. She attended Iowa State University where she was three-time First Team -12, the 2018 Big-12 Champion and Iowa State Athlete of the Year. Earlier that year competed in the U.S. Women’s Open and had planned to eventually turn professional.
This tragedy came only weeks after Fernandez Cano, who was Celia’s good friend, fellow competitor and former Spanish amateur teammate, finished third in the Sioux Falls Challenge near the end of her first year as a pro. It was a moment that would shape Fatima’s future.
“I was talking to her mom, , the other day and we both agree there is something that is helping us from somewhere,” said Fenandez Cano. “It’s very light will never fade. She will always give us energy. I am not living this dream just for me, but also for her.”
Each week on the Epson Tour, Fernandez Cano honored in several ways. A pin on her hat and her driver cover were decorated with the initials “CBA” in burnt cardinal and gold, Celia’s favorite colors and the colors of Iowa State. Additionally, Cano sports a bracelet that says “Todo , vale”, translated “Everything counts,” a saying would consistently use and live by.
It is a practice she will continue as an LPGA Tour professional. Every swing Fatima takes will be cheered by a guardian angel.
Fernandez Cano’s Road to the LPGA Tour wasn’t traditional. After finding as many opportunities as possible to compete at a young age, Fernandez Cano migrated to America to compete in college. Without so much as an overnight visit, she trusted in Troy University’s coaches and took a leap of faith in committing to compete for the Trojans. Four years later, Fernandez Cano found herself a four-time All-Sun Belt First-Team selection, an eight-time medalist that included the 2014 Sun Belt Conference Championship and the 2016 Sun Belt Conference Golfer of the Year.
In her third year on the Epson Tour, Fatima Fernandez Cano found her breakthrough moment at the IOA Championship presented by Morongo Casino Resort & Spa where she captured her first win. Despite testing positive for coronavirus twice and being forced to miss two events ( Casino Hotel Championship and Epson Tour Championship), Fernandez Cano worked her way into the top five courtesy of six top-15 performances across eight starts.
“It was a little nerdy, but I had a spreadsheet of where I was standing and what every player needed to get past me. I knew it was unlikely but there was a chance that I could get knocked out of the top-5 which made it stressful to watch from the outside, but it happened, and it’s definitely settled in now.”
Her consistency shined across several statistical categories, as Fernandez Cano led the Epson Tour this year in par-4 scoring average (3.996) and par-5 scoring average (4.613), while finishing second in scoring average (70.880).
“My mindset has changed. I used to feel like I needed to control everything and now I realize that it’s just not possible,” said Cano. “Now I tell myself just to control what you can control. After testing positive in the Spring when I thought I was doing everything right, I was upset at first. When I came back thought I was thinking I just need to work harder, and I did. Then I got my first win ever.”
Next week, Fernandez Cano will travel to Houston, TX to compete in the final major in golf this year, the U.S. Women’s Open. She earned exemption into the tournament with her top-5 finish on the Epson Tour this season and it will be her second year in a row competing in the event.
“How awesome would it be to pull a ‘Sophia Popov’ again. It’s possible, we saw it with Sophia. She was an inspiration for all of us. So, I am honestly going to try,” said Fernandez Cano. “She in a way told us ‘hey you can do it too.’ It’s possible for a Epson Tour player to go out and win an LPGA major. It stuck with me and I am going to take that with me to the U.S. Women’s Open for sure.”
From a professional who came from a small city in Spain - a woman who has witnessed tragedy and overcome obstacles on and off the course - Fatima Fernandez Cano shared a few words with the next generation.
“You can do anything you want to do,” she said. “Do not believe anyone who tells you it is not possible. Either forget about whoever told you that or use it as fuel and prove them wrong. Just work hard, do your thing and have a support system around you. Just because you are a girl and from whatever country it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. Will it take a little more effort, maybe, but you can do ”